Frosty conditions take their toll on second-year tabletop strawberry plants

Strawberry growers are counting the cost of damage due to low temperatures to overwintered plants that were earmarked for early production this spring.

Tabletop crops are easily the hardest hit, although a few soil-grown ones are also affected.

West Midlands ADAS soft fruit adviser Chris Creed explained that plants in growbags are particularly prone to frost damage because they tend to stand proud of the growing medium.

He estimates that around 80 per cent of second-year bag-grown plants have been damaged.

"Plants do have powers of recovery and if it's a kind spring they might get away with it although yields will be reduced," he said. "There has been a bit of damage to bed-grown plants - only about 0.5 per cent - and that is something I've not seen in years," he added.

Creed believes that most of the damage was done during a 10-day spell when the daytime temperature rarely rose above freezing and night temperatures as low as -8 degsC were recorded.

Frosting symptoms are usually discovered as brown streaks or orange-brown discolouration on cut surfaces when the crowns are sliced through horizontally.

"But you've got to be careful (in diagnosing the problem) because the damage can be confused with that produced by crown rot," he warned.

Creed explained that "taking tabletop crops through to a second year (after taking a late crop the previous year) is always a bit speculative". Another problem facing growers in this area was caused by a weather window that was too short last autumn for bed-making and sterilisation.

As a result, more of this work than usual is having to be done this spring when the soil temperature is going to be lower.

This means that not all of the sterilant might have dispersed by the time growers want to plant.

Many of those who managed to prepare their beds in the autumn began planting everbearers in late February, rather than waiting until March or April.

They also covered them with fleece so that the plants are established "and ready to go" when the soil warms up in April.

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